REVIEW OF MELISSA DICKEY’S THE LILY WILL
Review of Melissa Dickey’s The Lily Will.
Rescue Press: Milwaukee, WI 2011, 65 Pages $14.00
By Anne Barngrover
A book bound in a square and barely larger than your hand, The Lily Will requires two readings, each ideally the length of one sitting. The first will leave you pondering a meditation. The second will ensnare you in its war.
The landscape of these poems inhabits the quiet, small and solitary places: the garden, the window, the stable, puddle, bed. Here, Dickey’s field notes shimmer and puzzle in “a spot of melt/ shaped like a busted top hat,” “All the greens run like rabbits on water,” “The water flickers asterisks,” and “Sky dumps its new blue, its sunburn.” She does exactly what the best poets do when they unearth what’s beautiful in the ugly and what’s ugly in the beautiful. For instance, she chronicles in the poem “Betrothal”:
Oranges, someone let fall oranges,
ripe, it’s their season.
They lay bright in the dust
and shell gravel, the center
of a still life dropped,
rolled off a truck.
In the same poem she ends with the admission, “I align myself over and over accordingly.” It is here where we can sense an untamed fear bubbling beneath the compressed lyrics of these hiding places that aren’t really for hiding at all. Later she confesses “(I won’t let myself/ wild enough)”—the words themselves couched in parentheses—“something terrible/ about a bird.” This is a writer who calls us out in our vulnerability, who knows that “When you walk naked, you walk/ more carefully. As if on tiptoe” and, even more startling, “When you share a bed you find/ other ways of hiding.”
Hence, The Lily Will is also a book that has a changing of seasons, a cycle of both natural and unnatural dying and rebirth. In the poem “Of the Summer Garden” we move from the luminous opening image, “A bee deconstructs a magnolia blossom” to the dark ending, “As when I knew one war/ was over and another would come,/ afraid to tell anyone.” And in the following poem, “Token,” we shift directly from “Love the tracks that go around the bend” to “The memory of that horse shit smell/ Those few times you entered the stable,” a pungent reminder of where Dickey is leading us down that unknown trail.
Perhaps the best example of this precarious dichotomy between private and open, small and large, is the singular poem “Vision,” the first of Part V:
Last night Emily’s baby was born
only three inches long
but it grew quickly.
She put it in a dark cloth contraption
so it would feel more comfortable.
Then she shook it around.
We are tiny, and then we are grown. We are safe, and then we are not. While we may never know what stirs beneath the murky waters of each poem, in The Lily Will we are always aware that there is something stirring. Through reading each poem, once and then again, we become preoccupied with “what the body does/ with watermelon seeds,” “A gape-mouthed, washed-up catfish,” and not the Hope we know that is a thing with feathers, but we find instead that here, “Hope has Xs for eyes.”
Anne Barngrover earned an MFA from Florida State University. Her poems will appear in such journals as The Florida Review, Nimrod, Barn Owl Review and Southern Indiana Review, among others. She lives and teaches in Tallahassee.